Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Movie Review: Roll Red Roll

Roll Red Roll *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Nancy Schwartzman.
The only thing sadder than the fact that documentaries like Roll Red Roll need to continue to be made is that cases like the one in Roll Red Roll keep happening. If you ever need to some people what rape culture looks like, you could do a lot worse than just showing them this 80-minute movie about the infamous Steubenville rape case – which ended up getting two high school football players convicted of rape, but in many ways show an entire town as being guilty as not thinking something like this is a problem. The silver lining here – if you can call it that – is that unlike in other cases, the police really do take this seriously. They are investigating the same day that the victim – known only as Jane Doe – and her parents file the police report, and charges are filed fairly soon after. They do not slow walk this investigation – although it is only over time that the scope of the problem becomes clear.
The facts of the case really are fairly straight forward. Jane Doe is a 16-year-old girl, who doesn’t go to Steubenville High School, but knows some of the boys on their football team – in particular Trent Mays, who she has a crush on. One night, she goes partying with them and gets drunk – really, really drunk. The players go to not one, not two, but three different locations with her. There are pictures of her passed on drunk being carried by the players. Eventually, she ends up in the basement of one of the players where both Mays and another football player – Ma’lik Richmond – rape her. There are other boys present – and while they don’t rape her, they don’t do anything to stop it either.
Once the charges and filed, and the story hits the news it’s a lot of what you expect. Former football players and the local media coming to the boys’ defense, trying to downplay what happened, trying to blame the victim for being drunk around a bunch of boys anyway, “wondering” aloud if the victim let it happen then felt guilty, so had to “make-up” a story. Gradually though, that becomes harder and harder a line to tow. An enterprising crime blogger goes through the social media posts of the boys on the football team – and it’s shocking. There are a lot of rape jokes, a lot of misogyny directed at the girl, all from the night in question. Anonymous soon gets involved – and no matter what you think of the so-called “hacktivists” group, they discover more – including a video of one of the drunken players joking non-stop is a torrent of misogyny joking about the victim, and laughing the entire time. Even then though, it kind of seems like many in Steubenville, while accepting that the boys did something wrong, still don’t quite see it as being that bad either.
There is something about football culture in America that really does seem to blind some people. Especially in small town, like Steubenville, where it seems like much of the socializing happens around the football team – it lets the players feel entitled, and has everyone covering their back. You see this in the film when you hear local radio hosts downplaying what happened, or when the school lets the football coach decide whether or not to punish the players. In one shocking moment among many in the film, the detective in charge sits down and interviews the coach, who doesn’t seem to realize the seriousness of what happened, or even really what rape is. The extent of him looking into it was asking them if they raped her – and letting it go from there. He didn’t punish them for drinking – even though normally he said he would – because he thought it would make them look guilty. And you see it in the way the community responded to the true crime blogger who found all those social media posts that are horrifying. They aren’t mad at the players – they’re mad at her.
As a documentary, Roll Red Roll, is pretty straight forward – basically talking heads, and some footage from the time. It’s well made in kind of straight forward way. And the film doesn’t really expose anything that countless other recent docs have already exposed. But since things don’t seem to be getting any better, it’s still sadly necessary to do so once again.

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